Believe it or not, you can plan a wedding without throwing yourself and your families into debt for the next decade. I am going to give you a few suggestions and guidelines to make this possible without having to cut corners. All it takes is a little discipline and the willingness to stick to a budget.

The first thing that you can do is make a list of things that are “required” in planning a wedding. This includes your dress, his tux, guests, a cake, flowers, decorations for the reception, food, music, drinks, photographers, and whatever else you feel are the bare essentials. Then sit down with your fiancé and decide on the five most important things on this list. This is where you can splurge a bit. Five may sound like a very small number, but there are an awfully lot of decisions that need to be made while wedding planning, even if you’re keeping it simple.

If you can identify the five most important things before you start, it will keep you from letting all the “minor details” get out of control. Trust me, things can easily snowball if you don’t have a solid plan before you set yourself free into the world of wedding planning. Your fist assumption may be that a wedding planner is out of the question. In many cases this is true. But don’t rule them out until you have talked with a few of them.

He or she may be able to give some great suggestions on how you can stick to your budget. Once you start your planning, you will quickly see that it’s a little overwhelming. There are literally hundreds of photographers, pastry chefs, and florists in every city. It may help you to work with someone that knows the ropes and can help you find the companies with the highest quality work at the most reasonable prices.

Another thing that can help you pinch pennies is to plan your wedding during the off-season. The most popular months for weddings are May through October. Most venues will lower their prices during the months that are slower so that they can fill their calendars. Ask for the price list for the entire year and also find out the dates that they have open so that you know what you have to work with.

It’s never good news to set your heart on a date, only to find out that it’s booked. Destination weddings are a great way to save on your big day. It may not sound like a possibility, but when researching my wedding, I was absolutely amazed with what I found. There are tons of places that offer package deals on weddings. You can get discounted rooms in spectacular resorts if you plan to hold your wedding on their property. They have really incredible settings.

You can get married on the beach, in a pretty gazebo, next to a waterfall, or even on an inactive volcano in a beautiful national park! The sky is the limit if you’re open to traveling. And most of these places are all-inclusive, so you also get meals, drinks and entertainment. You may even decide to stay right where you are for your honeymoon. Keep your eye out for “Off The Rack” sales, you can get dresses that are normally very expensive at highly discounted prices because a few brides have merely tried them on for size.

You may need to get it dry cleaned just to be sure, but even if you need to have it altered, you’d have to even if you ordered it in your size. Another option is to wear your mother’s or your grandmother’s dress. You could have a few alterations made for the perfect fit or to update it a little. You could also choose to go with a dress that would normally be considered a bridesmaids’ dress. There are a lot of websites on the Internet that have dresses in myriads of colors.

But you can change the colors right on the photo. It is so much fun to see what they look like in white or ivory; all you do is point to the color and click. Although, I would not recommend ordering anything before you try it on, you may not be able to return it. Call around to bridal shops in your area and see if they carry the style, then go and try it on. Sometimes they look very, very different in the photographs. In the long run, this could cut hundreds or even thousands out of your budget. Don’t forget, you’re only going to wear your dress once. You can get all of your finishing touches on sale too, like Swarovski bridal jewelry or Swarovski hair pieces.

This next tip may be the biggest, and possibly the hardest of them all. Cut down on the guest list. You could do this in a few ways, I once attended a wedding where they had quite a few people at the ceremony and only a few at dinner, but later opened it up to everyone again, for drinks and dancing. You could also have a very small, formal ceremony and reception dinner for very close family and friends and follow it with a very relaxed and informal pig roast and picnic the following day. Whatever suits you will be fine, but I have to admit through experience that this is the part that took the most discipline.

There are a few ways to save at the reception, you may consider finding a place to hold your reception that will allow you to bring your own liquor and then all you need to do is hire a few people to tend the bar. You may not wish to serve a three or four course meal. Buffets are very acceptable ways to keep your guests happy and still save a significant amount of money. Another nice thing to do is have a dessert only reception, or you could cater the whole thing yourself and have your families prepare their favorite dishes. And last but certainly not least, DIY, DIY, DIY. There are a lot of very simple things that you can do yourself that can easily be as beautiful as purchasing everything for your wedding. You would be surprised at how little time it will take you and the unbelievable difference in the balance of your checkbook.

Make the decorations on the table out of hurricanes with glass gems in the bottom of water with a floating candle on top. You could even add a goldfish or two if you like! You could ask your family members to lend you their favorite crystal and set them around on the tables with scattered rose petals and votive candles among them to make very inexpensive, yet elegant centerpieces. You can also make your own invitations. There are a lot of companies that sell software that will provide you with pretty graphics, fonts, and techniques to make them flawless.

The Internet is a great resource that will help you come up with endless ideas and the tips to make them a reality. The best tip that I have for everyone that is planning a wedding: It is a wedding, which means that if you go home on that day and you are married to the person that you love, then your mission has been accomplished. All of these other things are merely details. The wedding is only the first day; it’s having a good marriage that is really important. Don’t let yourself get too overwhelmed with all of this, just have fun and enjoy your day.